Report: Lakers “operating under the belief” that Russell Westbrook will be back

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Ever since, well, nearly 30-50% through the season, it’s been believed by many in the media that this would be the one and only season for Russell Westbrook on the Los Angeles Lakers as the costly experiment was a failure very early on in the 2021-22 campaign. This was backed up by reported mutual interest between the team and Westbrook, as well as Russ’s drama-filled exit interview where he expressed his vintage annoyance towards his relationship with Frank Vogel and past words said by LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

However, we all know how quickly things change in the NBA. And this situation appears to be one of those situations.

The Athletic’s Sam Amick and Shams Charania (with contributions from Bill Oram) have reported the following as it pertains to the team’s coaching search and how Westbrook is involved in those conversations:

The Russell Westbrook factor continues to loom large here. Candidates have been asked to discuss how they would use a roster that includes Westbrook, with Lakers officials operating under the belief he will be part of their program next season. Westbrook has a player option worth $47 million for the 2022-23 campaign.

As for the prospect of Westbrook being waived or sent home (a la Houston’s John Wall last season) if he is not traded, those are not considered viable options, and all indications are that he will play. With that in mind, the Lakers are focused on hiring a coach who is capable of navigating these types of sensitive situations.

The part about the Lakers “operating under the belief” that he will be back lines up with recent reports that have been written. For one, it was reported by Amick recently that the team’s coaching candidates have been asked about how they would use Westbrook in interviews. Secondly, the L.A. Times’ Dan Woike reported two days ago that the team hasn’t “ruled anything out when it comes to Westbrook’s future.”

The idea of using the waive-and-stretch provision on Westbrook always seemed foolish given the large number that would sit on the books of one of the cheapest franchises in the game (hello, Alex Caruso). As for the situation with John Wall, that always seemed unrealistic given Westbrook’s hyper-competitive attitude.

It still seems like the Lakers would love to trade him, however, this report (as well as the others listed above) may be strong signs that the team either has doubts of a potential trade being available for Westbrook and his $47 million contract next season, or maybe that they just don’t want to cough up the one (or two) first-round picks that teams may be asking for in these deals.

Either way… Lakers fans… prepare yourselves for the worst.

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